A professor once told me his trick to happiness: treat your hobby like a career, but one that's more important. Those of us who eat up all types of hobbies — from comics to video games to DIY projects — know that a good hobby can be one of the most enriching parts of life, but they can also require a lot of time and money. Here's how to better budget that time and money.
All work and no play isn't good for anyone. A good work-life balance hinges on getting in the time to do what's important to you. If you don't already, it's time to start treating your hobbies with the same respect you give your career (although a hobby can also help your career, in certain cases). That means budgeting your time and your finances to accommodate your variety of interests.
Budget Your Hobby Time
You probably have a hard enough time keeping up with your day to day, but finding time for hobbies is just as important as getting your errands done. The first step is to prioritise your hobbies so you know what's really important.
Organise And Prioritise Your Hobbies
If you're anything like me, you have a bunch of different interests and hobbies. Staying engaged and keeping track of everything is incredibly difficult. One day I might feel the need to read several books on Civil War history, and three weeks later I'll spend my free time playing with an Arduino project.
Personally, I'm a fan of single-tasking hobbies. Doing so means I dedicate a good amount of my mindshare to each hobby. Once every couple of months I take a look at each hobby or project I want to do and organise them in a prioritised list. The list is based around what I already know about myself. In the summer months, for instance, I read a lot, so I stack a bunch of books at the top of the list. I also try to learn one new skill each summer (this summer is about learning to draw more than a stick figure), so that sits near the top as well.
The goal is to dedicate your attention to one main hobby project at a time. As frugal living blog The Simple Dollar points out, it's cheaper and more fruitful to concentrate on one or two things at once. You can mix up several hobbies, but if you really want to enjoy yourself I find it's best to concentrate on one at a time.
Create a Project or Entertainment To-Do List
You probably already use a to-do list to keep track of all your important work tasks and errands. Use the same idea for your hobbies. I use a list separate from my work to-dos, but you can integrate all your to-dos together and use the categories or labels setting to keep them separate.
Here's what I do: I write down a list with media release dates I'm interested in (movies, games, books). Then I fill in the gaps with start dates for other hobby projects. It's that simple. The benefit is twofold: I always have something productive to do with myself instead, and I have a to-do list to keep me on track. Yours will differ, but the premise is the same: make a to-do list and calendar and stick to it.
Budget Time Every Day, No Excuses
You have your to-do lists, but how about actually finding the time to do them? One suggestion that comes from Make Magazine editor Mark Frauenfelder is pretty simple: dedicate 15 minutes a day. Frauenfelder explains:
What if I gave myself 15 minutes a day to get away from the computer and work on a project? And I think almost anybody can give himself 15 minutes a day. But it really adds up and after a month or so, that's a considerable amount of hours that you've been able to devote making things.
You can apply this to nearly any hobby you can do in your own house. Learning guitar? Dedicate at least 15 minutes to it. Reading a book? Playing a video game? Drawing a comic strip? Fifteen minutes daily — no excuses.
For hobbies that require longer stints of time, focus on what you can do during those short 15 minutes to practice or prepare. This obviously can't work for everything, but it works for a good chunk of hobbies. You can also take The Information Diet author Clay Johnson's advice and schedule in your media (in this case also a hobby) just like you would a meeting. You might find that when you put that time on your calendar you're more likely to do it instead of wasting time elsewhere. Photo by Iain.
Give Yourself Mini-Hobby Holidays
Taking a holiday to go fishing isn't a new idea, but it's worth noting that you should do it for other hobbies as well. Going somewhere on holiday is awesome, but taking a day here and there to work on a hobby exclusively is a great stress reliever as well. Use your annual leave to take a long weekend and dedicate your full attention to a hobby.
Feeling the need for some binge TV series watching? Take a day off and enjoy it. No checking work email and no catching up on errands. Hide your phone if you have to. Do whatever it takes to put yourself in the holiday mentality.
Budget Your Finances
Hobbies typically have the unique characteristic of being easy to plan expenses around because they're all about preparation. In effect, budgeting for a hobby is all about forward thinking. The good news? You've already done most of the work above with your to-do list. Now all you have to do is make sure you have the money.
The Initial Dip: Don't Overspend
Some hobbies are expensive up front, others are cheap, and others have costs that build up over time. The trick with budgeting for a hobby is all about patience. Getting started with photography? That $5000 DSLR camera won't make you a better photographer. Instead, take it slow and ease into it. Plan to spend small amounts of money as you dip your toe in and make bigger investments later. Frugal living blog The Simple Dollar sums the idea up nicely:
When you're chasing something as nebulous as "having all the good stuff," there's constantly something more to buy to sate your hobby.
The idea is that you start with enough to get you going, and then supplement what you need along the way. When you plan out projects ahead of time you have plenty of time to prepare the money, learn to work with what you have, and decide if expenses are worth the extra cost. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker.
Use Your To-Do List as a Budget Tool
Remember that to-do list you created above? That's the perfect foundation for a budget as well. Not only did you pick the days and months your hobby requires your attention, you probably also now have a mental list of items you'll be buying at the same time. You essentially created a handy, year-long calendar of hobby purchases. It's time to start budgeting for them.
For example. Let's say on your hobby to-do list is "record music in October". Ask yourself what you need to accomplish this. Do you need new cables? New music gear? Tally up the list, check out some basic prices, and come up with a sum total. When you're done, divide that total by how many months you have until your start date and save a little money every month.
Some hobbies make this easy by operating in seasons. Winter in Australia is known for blockbuster movies, spring and summer are dominated by video games, and sports stick to their respective seasons pretty strictly. For everything else, use your best judgement to find a good start date.
Depending on the type of career or job you have, you're either defined by what you do from nine to five, or what you do the rest of the time. Maybe you're lucky and it's both. If your hobbies define you as much as my professor once implied, then they're worth fighting for the time to appreciate them. How about you? Do you find yourself out of time and money for hobbies after life gets in the way? Share your tricks for budgeting and managing in the comments.